Force Structure:

Air Force Needs a Periodic Total Force Assessment

GAO-02-541: Published: May 2, 2002. Publicly Released: May 2, 2002.

Additional Materials:


Janet A. St Laurent
(202) 512-4402


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Air Force began to test the force requirements in its manpower requirements-determination process in May 2000. The defense strategy envisions simultaneously fighting two major theater wars and conducting multiple contingency operations in peacetime. The Total Force Assessment was the Air Force's first evaluation of manpower adequacy in these contexts since 1995. Because the Total Force Assessment was not implemented as planned, the Air Force cannot demonstrate that it has the forces needed to carry out the full spectrum of military operations. Although intended to examine whether authorized Air Force personnel were sufficient to meet both the wartime and peacetime scenarios, the assessment only addressed the wartime scenario and did not address the adequacy of manpower for conducting multiple contingency operations in peacetime. Air Force officials concluded that manpower was adequate to support the wartime scenario but this assessment was inconclusive because the effort was discontinued before all discrepancies in the assessment's results were resolved. Although the Air Force spent considerable time and effort conducting at least a portion of its planned assessment, it has not used the results to the extent anticipated.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. The Air Force has developed a capabilities based manpower determination (CBMD) process that incorporates a TFA analysis in its methodology. CBMD allows the Air Force to determine manpower needs on the assets required to go to war as new circumstances arise, or plan against different military scenarios, to assess the adequacy of active duty forces to provide Combatant Commanders with a range of capabilities pursuant to the National Military Strategy. This departs from past practice, where Air Force computed manpower needs based on peacetime operations, with the TFA--the wartime manpower calculation--serving as an adjunct to the normal process. Initial CBMD analysis was completed in May 2004, and the process was expected to be codified in the updated publication of Air Force Instruction 38-201. While the Air Force has yet to publish this guidance, Air Force testimony in March 2006 indicates that the Air Force has taken steps to achieve a better allocation of Air Force personnel in order to meet the requirements of its wartime missions and to use its available forces more effectively. This goes to the intent of GAO's recommendation. For example, the Air Force has testified that reductions of 40,000 personnel are possible when balanced against the national strategy and the most demanding war time scenarios. Further, the Air Force is introducing an initiative called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century that is intended to provide the Air Force the means to eliminate activities not contributing to creating military utility and mission capability.

    Recommendation: To enable the Air Force to objectively demonstrate it has the forces necessary to support the spectrum of military operations envisioned in the defense strategy and to enhance force management processes, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to institutionalize a Total Force Assessment process to be conducted on a regular basis with clearly articulated uses for its results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Looking for more? Browse all our products here